I met Joey R B Lozano only once, but he left a deep impression.
A small-made man with passionate zeal and tons of energy, he was every inch an activist-journalist-campaigner. We had invited him to a regional workshop of factual video producing and distributing partners from across Asia that we held in Singapore in November 2002.
We hadn’t worked with Joey earlier. He came recommended by our international partner Witness, which uses video-based advocacy and activism for promoting and safeguarding human rights worldwide.
Joey used his personal video camera to assert indigenous land rights, and to investigate corruption and environmental degradation in his native Philippines. Joey was an independent human rights activist and also one of the country’s leading investigative reporters.
He freelanced for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, covering Indigenous peoples’ rights and the environment, considered the two most dangerous beats in the Philippines. But years earlier, he had moved out of the capital Manila, and committed his life and career to stories and issues at the grassroots that many of his city-based colleagues had no time or patience in covering on an on-going basis.
Trained as a print journalist, Joey mastered new media and technologies whose potential he quickly realised. He moved into television and video media with ease, and later became an active blogger.
Joey’s TV investigations began in 1986, when he helped ABC’s 20/20 to uncover the “Tasaday hoax”, a highly successful fraud to pass off local tribespeople as a newly discovered Stone Age culture.
He soon embarked on his own investigations and started digging into illegal logging, gold mining and land-grabbing. In turn, his exposes quickly earned him repeated assassination and abduction attempts, in a country that is one of the more dangerous places to practice journalism.
When he came to Singapore, Joey had recently ‘starred’ in a major Canadian documentary titled Seeing is Believing: Human Rights, Handicams and The News, which looked at how committed, passionate individuals were using new communication technologies to change the world.
Photo of Singapore TVEAP workshop participants: Joey Lozano is 6th from left on the frontmost row
We screened the film, made by Katerina Cizek and Peter Wintonick, and heard first hand from Joey on what his struggles entailed. The film followed Joey as he delivers a new “Witness” donated video camera to Nakamata, a coalition of Indigenous groups in Central Bukidnon. Together, Nakamata and Joey begin documenting a dangerous land claims struggle, and it doesn’t take long for tragedy to unfold in front of the camera.
Watching the film and then listening to Joey — and his Witness colleague Sam Gregory — describe the on-going struggle, was one highlight of our week-long workshop. Some of us saw in Joey the activist-campaigner that we wanted to be, but were too scared or too polite to really become.
Not everyone shared that view. The cynicism — sometimes bordering on disdain — of a fellow Filipino from Metro Manila was palpable. No wonder Joey moved away from the city.
We at TVE Asia Pacific were extremely keen to distribute Seeing is Believing, for it held such a powerful and relevant message for our region, but it was not to be. Our enquiries showed that like most documentaries, it was tied up in too many copyrights restrictions and commercial distribution deals.
Following the Singapore workshop, I did keep a watchful eye on what Joey Lozano was up to. The film’s website provided occasional updates, and sometimes blog posts from Joey himself.
Our paths never crossed again. Almost three years after our single encounter came the news that Joey had passed away. It wasn’t the assorted goons who hated his guts that finally got him. His own body turned against him.
His tribute on the film’s website started as follows:
Joey Lozano defied the odds. For three decades, he survived dangerous missions to defend human rights using his video camera, in the Philippines, a country that ranks high, year after year, for most journalists killed. Joey went into hiding numerous times, and he dodged two assassination attempts. Once, bullets whizzed past his ear as he made his escape on motorbike.
But Joey couldn’t beat the odds of cancer. He died in his sleep on September 16, 2005 – at home and surrounded by his family.
The spirit and legacy of Joey R B Lozano live on. He inspired a large number of journalists and activists to stand up for what is right and just — and to be smart about it in using modern information and communication technologies, or ICTs.
Joey and other Witness activists were pioneers in different parts of the world who turned handicams away from weddings and birthday parties to capture less cheerful sights and sounds the world must see — and then act on. They were at it years before mobile phone cameras, YouTube and user-generated content in the mainstream media.
And now, Witness has established an award at the Silverdocs film festival. The WITNESS Award in Memory of Joey R.B. Lozano will be awarded to the qualifying SILVERDOCS filmmaker of a feature-length film who has produced a well-crafted and compelling documentary about a human rights violation or social justice issue. The winning filmmaker will also have a thoughtful, creative, and feasible outreach plan to use their film as a tool to raise awareness of the human rights or social justice issue explored in the film with a goal to bring about change.
The inaugural award was announced on June 17 — and has been won by “The Devil Came on Horseback” by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern.
Joey was a Witness partner and board member. He co-produced many films and collaborated on others that helped raise awareness about threats to indigenous people’s rights in the Philippines from corporations, and the complicity of the government in the abuses. Witness was founded in 1991 by musician peter Gabriel and the Lawyer’s Committee for Human Rights to put new technologies into the hands of local activists around the world.
Read International Wildlife May 1999: Why Joey Lozano Is A Marked Man – investigative reporter works for the environment